The Moose and the Sparrow

by Hugh Garner

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The Moose and the Sparrow Summary

The Moose and the Sparrow” is a 1966 short story by Hugh Garner about a conflict between Cecil and Moose, two men working at a Canadian lumber camp.

  • Cecil, a university student, takes a summer job working at a lumber camp run by Moose, a seasoned lumberjack.
  • Moose dislikes Cecil’s incompetence and delicate, bookish demeanor. Moose bullies Cecil to the point of physically endangering him.
  • One morning, the crew discovers that Moose has fallen to his death at the bottom of a ravine. The narrator suspects Moose was tripped on purpose.


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Last Updated on September 6, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 879

The Moose and the Sparrow” is a short story by Hugh Garner that was published in 1966. The story is told from the first-person perspective of a character named Mr. Anderson, one of a crew of lumberjacks stationed one summer in a remote area near Nanaimo, Canada. They work cutting enormous douglas firs, which is a dangerous operation, and a young man named Cecil struggles to adapt to the difficult work.

Cecil is an unusual recruit compared to the other lumberjacks. He is a small, studious man who lacks the physical strength of his peers on the logging crew. He is sent to work for them only because a distant relative knows he needs money to pay for his university education. Immediately upon his arrival, he begins to make potentially fatal mistakes in his capacity as a signal operator. Soon, he is reassigned to Moose Maddon’s crew as a handyman.

On Moose’s crew, Cecil is tasked with all the basic errands necessary to keep operations running. He gets food, makes tea, and carries the axes to and from the sharpener. For the first couple of weeks, the rest of the lumberjacks subject him to what they consider fairly standard hazing: pranks, futile errands, teasing. But when Cecil fails to adapt to the environment, Moose targets him ever more viciously.

One night, Moose conscripts a friend to help carry Cecil—mattress, bedding, and all—to the nearby river, where the two throw him in, nearly causing him to drown. Soon after, Moose paints a tar mustache on Cecil’s face that lasts nearly a week. Cecil maintains his even temper despite Moose’s increasing brutality, spending his time calmly making little wire trinkets to share with the rest of the crew.

When Moose learns that Cecil is studying at the university, his mockery intensifies even further. The other men in the camp begin to worry about the extent of the torment, enough that one even quietly requests that Mr. Semple, the boss, transfers Cecil out of the crew to prevent further harm.

During an after-dinner walk about six weeks into Cecil’s tenure at the lumber camp, Mr. Anderson encounters him crying near the river. The young man is struggling to handle Moose’s bullying and is dreading the next few weeks before he returns to school. The two talk, and Mr. Anderson learns a little more about Cecil’s difficult backstory and his aspirations. The young man, he discovers, managed to graduate high school a year early despite being raised in a series of foster homes. When he completes his arts degree, he intends to go to law school.

Cecil asks Mr. Anderson why Moose seems so fixated on his torture and gets an answer he doesn’t expect. Mr. Anderson replies that Moose might be jealous of Cecil and that his envy and anger are powerful enough to drive him to violence. Cecil tells Mr. Anderson that he thinks Moose might really hurt him before he goes back to school, and Mr. Anderson tries to reassure him, but he secretly agrees.

Mr. Anderson speaks to Mr. Semple about removing Cecil from the camp, and the two come to a consensus. But when they tell Cecil it is time to go, he declines; he has decided to persevere. Mr. Anderson asks if he will make him a watch strap but then retracts the request when he notices that Cecil is running out of wire. Cecil assures him that he has plenty left for what he has in mind.

The next day, Moose badly burns Cecil’s hand. He does it very clearly on purpose, and the mood...

(This entire section contains 879 words.)

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around the camp becomes fraught. One of the other men tries to attack Moose in retaliation, but the rest of the crew holds him back. Increasingly worried, Mr. Anderson becomes more intent on getting Cecil home safely at the earliest opportunity. Moose, unbothered by the consequences of his actions, drunkenly wanders to a nearby camp to play poker.

In the morning, Mr. Anderson wakes to find Cecil weaving him a watch strap from copper wire despite his severe hand injury. Just after breakfast, the crew receives unexpected news: Moose Maddon’s body has been found at the bottom of a forty-foot ravine, evidently having fallen from the log bridge used to cross to and from the nearby camp. Shaken by his sudden death, the crew installs a hand line across the bridge and sends his body off in a small plane.

Before he leaves to return to the university, Cecil finishes the watch strap. Mr. Anderson is impressed; with his old watch face and buckle fixed to it, it looks like it was made by a professional. Mr. Anderson tries to pay Cecil, but he refuses.

That fall, Mr. Anderson walks along the log bridge and sees something nobody else has noticed before—a few tiny marks in the wood, suggesting that someone might once have set up a thin wire to trip someone as they walked across. Reassuring the reader that nobody can possibly know what happened, he admits that looking at his watch sometimes gives him an odd feeling. He might, he notes, be the only man in the world wearing the evidence of a murder on his wrist.